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How interpreting emotions can deliver powerful personalisation

Jonathan Whiteside
Jonathan Whiteside
Global SVP Technology & Engineering
5 min read
22 November 2016

We live in an increasingly personalised digital world. Most applications we log in to on a daily basis not only know who we are, but also know the things we like, our hobbies, interests and past purchases. I’m sure you have all experienced Facebook recommending content to you based on what your friends have liked, created or watched, Amazon recommending products based on your past purchases and browsing history, or Spotify creating a curated playlist for you based on what you’ve been listening to.

This type of personalised content makes us feel that the website ‘knows’ us. By understanding our preferences and tastes, just like our closest of friends do, visiting these sites becomes habitual –  we come back to check what our recommendations are, and trust that their decision is as good as our own.

This is nothing new. Personalisation has been with us for years, relying on data from one of the following sources to shape our experiences:

  • Behavioural = Based on user behaviour (i.e. products we have viewed)
  • Contextual = Based on a current state that changes over time (i.e. time of day, seasonal)
  • Demographic = Based on stable attributes (i.e. age, gender, income)

But what if we could add the fourth dimension of Emotion? What if websites could understand the way we are feeling and respond to our emotions?

Happiness 2.0

Speaking on the Creatiff stage at Web Summit 2016, Pamela Pavliscak, founder of US user experience consultancy Change Sciences, gripped us with her talk ‘Happiness 2.0 – Is Technology Becoming Emotional?’

Delving into the dimensions of happiness, Pamela took us on a journey to explore how we define it, what makes us happy, and how emotional decisions and feelings are already becoming translated into digital contexts.

User inputs such as emojis and Snapchat filters give us a way to express our emotions within digital contexts. We may not be consciously aware of it, but apps are starting to use this data to translate emotional inputs and shape our experiences.

Moving past these simple experiences, tech companies are now using greater methods of physical emotion to create better digital experiences. Heart monitors on wearables are enabling companies to match the data gleaned with emotions, to help develop a greater understanding of how their users are feeling at any given time, and then relating this back to their products.

Let’s take a look at how some modern tech companies are translating emotional data to define experiences:


Sproutling is a baby wearable which monitors heart rate, position, movement and sleep. Over time, it will be able to understand your baby from the findings of their emotions and actions. The aim is to take away the element of worry (cue emotion), and give parents a greater understanding of their child’s emotions and reactions through results from the wearable.

PPL Keeper

Ppl Keeper is a relationship management app, described as ‘an app that tracks, analyzes, and auto-manages your relationships. Using a smartwatch, pplkpr monitors your physical and emotional response to the people around you, and optimizes your social life accordingly’. In short, it can tell when you are with someone and records your feelings, it then gives you a breakdown of who is effecting you in what way and can then go as far and getting rid of the negative people in your life digitally.

Crystal knows

Crystal is personality detection technology which analyses public data to tell you how you can expect any given person to behave, how he or she wants to be spoken to, and what you can expect your relationship to be like, enabling you to communicate better with them.

Is there a place for emotion in business?

If we are moving towards a more emotional state online, what do companies need to focus on to make sure it is incorporated into business opportunities?

There is a belief that companies should be trying harder with personalisation to create stronger emotional bonds between the consumer and the product. Understanding how your users feel and using this information to generate a happier experience could guarantee their attachment to your product or service. You want attachment and a long-term, long-distance relationship with your users. Data collection on an emotional level will speak volumes about a person to help you achieve this.

“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion” – Dale Carnegie

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Global SVP Technology & Engineering

Jonathan Whiteside